PHRC Phase 2 (2011-2019) projects – Cross-cutting projects

Patterning across public health attitudes, experience and knowledge in Britain

Lead investigator

Sally McManus, National Centre for Social Research (NatCen)


England’s public health strategy includes dementia, obesity and harmful drinking as priority areas, and accords equal importance to mental and physical health. Raising awareness, changing attitudes and improving knowledge are key to mobilising individuals and communities to tackle these public health challenges. While there’s growing evidence on clustering in health risk behaviours, less is known about how attitudes to different areas of public health relate to each other and how this may be socially patterned. Health promotion activities could be delivered more efficiently if it is known whether (and for who) low levels of awareness overlap across public health priorities.

Aims and objectives

To examine:

  • In what ways inequalities in levels of public health awareness and knowledge are socially and economically patterned.
  • Are people with low levels awareness for one public health priority (e.g. dementia prevention), also more likely to have low awareness of others (e.g. obesity or mental illness)? Which areas of public health attitudes are most strongly linked, and how is this socially and economically patterned?
  • Are the relationships between attitudes, experience and knowledge similar for dementia, obesity, alcohol, and mental illness? Does this vary with social circumstances?


The British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey tracks public attitudes. BSA 2015 included four public health modules: obesity, harmful drinking, dementia, and mental illness and wellbeing. The modules cover different aspects of knowledge of risk factors and prevention, as well as perceptions, experience and stigma. This project will identify links in public attitudes, knowledge and experience across the four public health areas. The dataset includes individual, household, and area-level measures, enabling examination of inequalities in attitudes and knowledge, and links with social and economic circumstances.


    • Hilary Graham, University of York
    • Ian Simpson, National Centre for Social Research (NatCen)
    • Klaudia Lubian, National Centre for Social Research (NatCen)

01/07/2016 - 30/9/2017 (15 months)